Bleeding Like a Speared Mammoth… The Chemistry of MisAdventures

Miss Wilkerson, my high school chemistry teacher, whipping up a batch of something stinky. Oops, sorry, I mean performing a scientific experiment. I liked Miss Wilkerson, in fact, I might have had a slight crush, but I just couldn’t get excited about lab work.

 

Looking back, (hindsight, mind you), I am not too surprised about the paths I chose to follow in my life. But given that science is one of my favorite subjects from a lay perspective (Scientific American, for example, is the only magazine I read cover to cover), I find it a bit perturbing that I was so ready to drop science as a high school and college student.

 

I’ve never required much help in eliminating options from my life. Chemistry was like that. I would have made a good Greek Philosopher, working out problems in my head. Lab work and I don’t get along as a general rule. I quickly learned in high school that I am not particularly fond of long dead frogs pickled in formaldehyde or chemicals that smell worse than an old dog’s fart. But there is more to it than that; I am convinced that good lab technicians are mechanically inclined. They like to tinker.

I have lots of friends like that. They love to take things apart and put them back together. They can fix anything and go out of their way to find things that need repairing. I knew kids in high school that enjoyed tinkering with automobiles.  Ask them anything about carburetors, water pumps, generators, horsepower or timing and they have a ready answer. I admired them for it, but my interest in carburetors was zilch and my primary interest in automobiles was that they get me from point A to point B without breaking down. Still is.

My friend, Tom Lovering, is a dedicated fix-it-man. I can’t imagine him going anywhere without his tool chest. He breaks it out at there slightest provocation and begs to fix things. Here he is with a pickled frog that doesn’t need dissecting. We were in Mexico sampling tequila.

I feel pretty much the same way about other fix-it items. I am just not excited about getting into the bowels of a toilet and replacing its thing-a-ma-bob. Nor am I interested in replacing light switches to see how much voltage I can send coursing through my body. Yeah, yeah, I know; you turn off the electricity first.

I am not sure where this lack of enthusiasm for things mechanical came from but it was probably a combination of aptitude and attitude. My father wasn’t particularly fond of working on automobiles and some of that may have rubbed off. But he was very handy. In addition to being a skilled electrician he loved puttering around outside making things. I classify all such activities as chores to be avoided if at all possible. In fact, over the years I have developed a number of strategies for not having to fix things. Here are a few. You may find them valuable if you are a mechanically disinclined male.

 

  • Don’t own any tools. You might be tempted to use them, or even worse, someone such as a wife might suggest that you use them.
  • Don’t buy a house. Every scientific study ever done confirms that the single most important reason for having to fix things is owning your own home. I was 53 years old before I made that mistake, and then it was a condo with minimal fix-it responsibilities.*
  • If something doesn’t work, go buy a new one.
  • Plead ignorance. “What do you mean there is more than one kind of screw driver?” As a corollary, hide your repair manuals. Peggy has the irritating habit of looking up things that need fixing and then saying sweetly, “Oh, this looks easy to do, Curt.”  My manliness has been challenged. It doesn’t matter that this ‘easy’ chore requires that I make four trips to the hardware store, purchase $500 worth of new tools, work ten hours straight and injure myself at least once.  I have to do it.
  • Curse a lot. Your partner may figure that leaving something broken is easier than listening to you.
  • Stall. “I’ll do it right after I cook your dinner, honey.” Stalling is easier if you are doing something the other person finds desirable.
  • If all else fails, compromise. I have an agreement with Peggy that I will do one manly chore per month. That’s my quota. Some activities such as fixing toilets even earn two months of credit.

 

* Unfortunately, these rules no longer apply. Eight years ago, Peggy and I decided to buy a home on five-acres of property. Everything I feared about home ownership has come to fruition. I now have a shed full of tools and have to use them. Sigh. The good news here is that Peggy loves to repair things. Just a wee bit of procrastination…

Even my hobbies as a kid reflected my non-mechanical tendencies. Building model ships, airplanes, cars, trains, etc. had no interest. My concept of a great hobby was rock collecting. I would hike along the Southern Pacific railroad tracks and pick up interesting rocks until all four pockets were bulging and my pants were about to fall off. I would then go home and smash them apart with a hammer to figure out what I had found. Geology became a life-long interest.

I do understand the arguments for being able to fix things: saving money, being self-sufficient, and obtaining satisfaction from a job well done. These same arguments, however, apply to going out in the pasture, shooting Elsie the Cow, gutting her, bringing home the meat, grinding it up and throwing it on the grill. Just think of the satisfaction involved and dollars saved! Or, you can go to the local fast food joint and help employ a kid who might otherwise turn to a life of crime.

Now, back to chemistry, one day we had to shove little glass tubes through rubber stoppers. Apparently, this is an important skill for budding chemists. It’s not a difficult task if you ignore the fact that the holes in the stoppers are approximately half the diameter of the glass tubes and, more importantly, you have a gallon of Vaseline. I was half way through my first masterpiece when the damn tube broke and ended up jabbed into my hand. Bleeding like a speared mammoth, I was carted off to the emergency room of the local hospital and sewn up.

There was plenty of time while sitting in ER to contemplate my future as a scientist. My conclusion: there wasn’t one. I decided that the best way to avoid long-dead animals, smelly chemicals and miscellaneous dangerous objects (not to mention higher level math skills) would be to choose a career that depended on verbal agility. In other words, my future would be based solely on my ability to bullshit. I determined then and there I would either become a politician or a writer.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.

FRIDAY’S POST: MisAdventures: I rediscover girls and run over a skunk on my first ‘date.’

Hiking the Rogue River Trail: Part 1… Over the Side I Went!

The Rogue River is noted for both its beauty and its rapids. The Rogue River Trail has been cut into the steep sides of the canyon, providing spectacular views of the river as well as an introduction to the interesting plant and animal life of the region.

 

Peggy and I backpacked down the 40-mile Rogue River Trail last week. It has been on her bucket list ever since she rafted down the Rogue a few years ago. I, too, wanted to explore the area but also needed to do a conditioning trip for my thousand mile backpack trip from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Whitney this summer. My new gear and my 75-year-old body needed to be tested. Both worked, more or less. This is the first of 3-4 posts on the trip.

The Rogue River Trail starts from a large paved parking lot named Grave Creek.  (The daughter of a pioneer was buried nearby in 1846, thus the ‘Grave.’) The site is mainly used as a kick off point for people rafting the river. No surprise. This section of the Rogue is world-famous for its rafting. And the majority of people traveling this way prefer to have a raft carry their food and gear as opposed to carrying it on their back. As my friend Tom Lovering the boatman says, “Why wouldn’t they?”

We arrived at 11:00, an hour later than I had hoped, and the sun was beating down mercilessly. Summer had arrived early, it seemed. The day before had been yet another cool spring day. We had been whining that it was never warming up! Go figure. I could see the trail snaking up the side of the canyon without an iota of shade. Peggy and I futzed around: slathering on sun-block, filling our water bottles, putting on our boots, and taking advantage of the out-house (twice). But inevitably, the time arrived, as it always does; we shouldered our packs and headed up the trail.

The beginning of the Rogue River Trail as seen from the Grave Creek parking lot. Up and in the sun.

Face it, backpacking can resemble work. There’s a part of your mind that lets you know this when you load everything you will need to live in the woods for a week on your back and start hoofing it up a mountain in the hot sun. Mine usually has some unprintable comments for me. If it’s the first trip of the year, if you are out of shape, or if you are over 50, the mind might even say a bit more. Well, Peggy and I were in fairly good shape (score one for us), but it was our first trip of the year, and, at 67 for Peggy and 75 for me, we definitely resembled the over-50 crowd.

There are also rewards, of course, otherwise people wouldn’t go backpacking unless they were forced to— or had masochistic tendencies. “Ah yes, pain, bring it on!” They’d stay home in front of their big screen TVs and veg, or write blogs. While our trail shot up the mountain, it also provided us with great views of the Rogue River. And we soon noted an abundance of wild flowers. The trail even seemed to flatten out a bit and trees provided welcome shade.

Peggy at the beginning of the trail with the Grave Creek Rapids behind her. A few years earlier I had waved good-by to her as the rapids grabbed her boat.

The canyon walls were often covered with flowers, especially if springs provided a bit of moisture.

The yellow flowers above are monkey flowers, one of my favorites, as you’ve probably noted from past posts. A friend once told me you can hear them say “eek,eek, eek” if you listen. I’ve never heard them, but I still listen. (grin)

These colorful stonecrop flowers also decorated the cliff sides. Their succulent leaves provide water for dry times.

More shaded spots provided a variety of brightly colored iris flowers. This is a golden iris. We found several other varieties along the way. You will see more!

Shaded trails like this one provided welcome relief from the more exposed sections of the path.

As did the frequent cool streams along the way. We stopped often to refill our water bottles. (Water along the route needs to be filtered.)

Most of the streams have bridges built over them, which eliminates the issue of fording.  I’ll show several in the next posts. Many were quite attractive.

It was a river trail, however, and that means ups and downs. They come with the territory. I was on a down when the accident happened. The path had dropped to maybe 50 feet above the river and the sheer drop-off cliff had switched to a steep embankment. My left foot, i.e. the foot on the river side, slipped on some loose gravel. No biggie. Years of trail hiking have given me an automatic sense of balance and fancy foot-work to deal with such contingencies. This time, however, I was using walking poles and I set the left one to provide the necessary balance.

The next thing I knew, I was toppling over. Peggy, who was behind me, said it was in slow motion, like I had fainted, or suffered a heart attack, or had a stroke. You can imagine how she felt. I didn’t have a clue what had happened. All I knew was that I suddenly found myself stomach down, head first on a crash course for the river. You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes in such circumstances? All that flashed in front of mine was another 40 feet of rocky slope topped off by a cold bath. Not good. I would have loved to have had my pack where I could have used it for a brake. But it was on my back, along for a free ride. Whoopee! Packs are like that. I used my left arm instead, pressing it down. I could feel the rocks ripping off my skin. But it worked. I slid on for a couple of more feet and stopped.

“Are you okay?” Peggy yelled. Apparently, I didn’t answer quickly enough because she threw off her pack and scrambled down. I was busy checking out my arm. It looked a bit like hamburger. To paraphrase an old Tex Ritter cowboy song, there was blood on my pack and blood on the ground, there was blood on my arm and blood all around. But the arm felt fine. At least it wasn’t broken or gushing. Peggy helped me get my pack off and I stood up and carried it back to the trail while she gathered up my walking poles.

We hiked back up to some shade and I took out my water bottle and washed my arm off. Good news. It was mainly a scrape with some 14 small cuts providing the blood. Only one seemed worthy of attention. Another couple came by at that moment. “My husband is a nurse,” the woman announced. He glanced at my arm, pronounced “You aren’t going to bleed to death,” and hurried on. So much for the medical profession, I thought. Peggy smeared on Neosporin and slapped a band-aid on the larger cut. We were good to go.

We hiked down a few feet and I picked up my walking poles. One was considerable shorter than the other. And then it struck me. The left pole had collapsed when I had shoved it into the ground for balance, and I had collapsed with it. There is probably something in bold letters, or at least the fine print that suggests you check them before use. Otherwise, the poles would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. I was relieved to know that the cause of the fall was the poles and not me!

Eventually we reached our first night’s camp, a lovely tree-shaded site below Whiskey Creek. Booze Creek is the next stream down, which may say something about the early gold miners that populated the area. We got out our flask of Irish cream liquor and toasted them— and ourselves, for surviving day one. Chores that evening included setting up camp, a quick, soap-less rinse of our clothes and selves in the icy river, and dinner. At one point, I had the mother of all cramps, as my leg protested against what it was sure was abuse. Were we having fun, or what? It was early to bed. Peggy crawled in at the sign of the first mosquito. I hung out for another hour or so.

Every bird in the world arrived at our camp at 5 a.m. the next morning and immediately burst into song. It was a virtual cacophony of noise as each bird competed with the next over who could trill the loudest and the longest. I rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep.  We crawled out at six and started our second day.

It was a lot like day one except I managed to stay on the trail. The trail continued its ups and downs, climbing down to cross streams and immediately back up afterwards. Once again it was hot. We were treated to great views of the river.

There were many more views of the river on the second day such as this, which featured rapids that the river runners love so much.

At one point, I spotted a snake out of the corner of my eye beside me on the trail. There is something primeval about seeing snakes, especially when they surprise you. Alarms go off deep in your brain while your leg muscles bunch up for a humongous leap. Almost simultaneously, I recognized that this fellow was one of the good guys, a king snake. I thought ‘photo-op.’ It’s difficult to photograph snakes when Peggy is around. She gets nervous. “Don’t get too close, Curt,” she urged. “It might bite you.” Possibly, if I grabbed it by the tail. But king snakes prefer to crush their food, winding around them like a boa constrictor. That’s what they do to rattlesnakes, even rattlesnakes that are bigger than they are. And then they swallow them, whole. I’d like to see that. Apparently, they are impervious to the venom.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a snake making its way along the edge of the trail…

Having noticed me, the snake made his way up the cliff, providing ample opportunity for me to take pictures. The closer I got, the more nervous Peggy became. I don’t know what the snake thought.

Later, Peggy noticed a large slug. At first we thought it was a banana slug, given its size. Banana slugs are well known as the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, a fact I love. You really have to like a college that selects a slug as its mascot. But our guy/gal lacked the characteristic yellow color. It seemed fat. “Maybe she’s pregnant,” Peggy mused, which led me to wonder how slugs mated. “Slowly,” Peggy suggested.

This large slug checked out Peggy while I took its photo. The walking pole is Peggy’s. Mine stayed affixed to the back of my pack after the accident for the whole trip.

Our greatest excitement of the day was getting from the trail down to our campsite at Horseshoe Bend. It was a long way down, and apparently, the Bureau of Land Management adheres to the philosophy that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Anything resembling a switchback was totally coincidental. The trail was so steep in places that we had to side step. We eventually arrived in one piece and discovered a new way of protecting our food from bears. It was shocking. BLM had created a small enclosure with an electric fence. I sat up that evening hoping to see a bear try to break in. No such luck.

Peggy provides her commentary on the trail down to Horseshoe Bend.

The electrified enclosure built to keep hungry bears away from rafters’ and backpackers’ food.

Do you think bears can read?

Our new, ultralight Big Agnes tent overlooking the Rogue River at Horseshoe Bend. We love the tent! It is big enough for the two of us (we like each other), and light enough that i can carry it to use as a solo tent.

The view from our campsite…

And finally, for those of you who were concerned about Bone being left behind this summer, here he is, happily ensconced in one of my belt pouches, peering out like a baby kangaroo.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: Smelly chemicals and long dead frogs discourage me from pursuing a career in science in the MisAdventure series.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.

How in the Heck Did I Get Here? Part 1… The MisAdventure Series

I’ve always enjoyed writing. Here, some of my fellow journalism students are conducting a practice interview with me at El Dorado Union High School where I wrote a column for the newspaper. I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I pursued a career in writing. It’s never too late, right.

Many things determine who we become in life. Sometimes it seems like destiny, but I am more convinced that it is predilection and happenstance. I am a great believer in Joseph Campbell’s ‘follow your bliss.’ Do what makes you happy. Do what you are good at. Genetics can play a big role here, and circumstances even more. It’s much easier to become a billionaire if your parents are. But mentors, the times you are born in, situations you experience, luck, and hard work all have a role to play. I’ve already explored some of the factors that led me down the path I have followed. In today’s and next week’s MisAdventure posts, I continue the exploration.

 

In the fourth grade, I discovered that long division was nasty. I got beyond that but word problems gave me a real complex. Two trains are hurtling at each other on the same track with Train A going 90 miles an hour and Train B going 70. They are 252.5296 miles apart. How long will it be before the Train A conductor says, “Ooooh shit!”  Not nearly as soon as I did. My own expletive arrived on my lips .0000001 seconds after seeing the problem. There was no waving of hands and saying “me, me.” I concentrated intently on sending vibes at the teacher. “Curt is not here today. You do not see Curt. You will not call on Curt.”

Spelling was another personal bugaboo in early elementary school. I inherited my spelling genes from my father who fervently believed that words should be spelled exactly as they sounded. “The hors cant come in the hows becaws he is to big to fit in the dor.” It drove Mother, whose grandfather had been a newspaper publisher, crazy. I learned in the third grade that I could compensate for my handicap by writing the really tough words in the palm of my hand just before spelling tests. After I aced several quizzes, my success became a little too much for my main competition.

“Miss Jones, Miss Jones, Curtis is cheating!” my nemesis announced loudly to the teacher, class and world. Boy, I was beginning to dislike her. Miss Jones solemnly checked my hand before a fast tongue and pants wipe move could destroy the evidence. She was not happy with her Godchild. Apparently, Moses had come down off the mountain with an Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall not cheat on your spelling test.

“Curtis I am giving you an ‘F’ on this test and you are to stay in class during recess the rest of the week,” she announced to me while the competition smirked. It was more than embarrassing; it was devastating. And what valuable lesson did I learn: no amount of effort is too much for revenge.  I spent an exorbitant amount of time on my spelling assignments after that with the sole purpose of beating the obnoxious little fiend. Unfortunately, she was equally inspired. I don’t think either one of us missed a word the whole rest of the year.

There’s an old adage that we are supposed to work hard at those things we find difficult, that it gives us character. My belief is that I already have plenty of character. If I had any more, little men in white coats would be chasing me with nets. I prefer to spend my energies on things I enjoy, like reading a good book or hiking in the wilderness. I have little tolerance for doing things that I don’t do well or fail to interest me. In other words, the Protestant Ethic and I have serious compatibility problems. But I can be stubborn. Math is a good example. I continued plugging away up to my junior year in high school. I even managed to get As in Algebra 1 and Geometry. That’s when I ran head on into Miss Caste, or Nasty Casty as she was known. It was definitely a character building experience.

Miss Caste taught Algebra II and, according to those who were seriously into math, was very good at what she did. Students leaving her class were reputed to have a solid foundation in the basics and be well prepared to move on to the ethereal worlds of calculus and trigonometry. Basics, I quickly learned, meant that there was one way of coming up with answers and that way was chiseled in stone. One did not diverge from accepted formulas or leave out steps; right answers obtained the wrong way were wrong answers. Wrong, wrong, wrong! This created a problem. I had a talent for coming up with right answers the wrong way— and this brought me unwanted attention. I could have lived with the extra attention except for another problem, Miss Caste’s teaching technique. She oozed sarcasm. My response was to freeze up. I started dreading her classes and developed the proverbial ‘bad attitude.’ I received my first C in high school and vowed never to take another math course. Life is short and then you die.

Of course, it was my loss. It was one of those life-altering decisions that speak to the power of teachers to turn students on, or off, to various subjects. I wasn’t a total dunce at math; in fact, I scored in the 98th percentile on the Iowa Test in math the same year. But I certainly wasn’t a genius. I was not going to make a career out of mathematics or jobs that were primarily math based. Unfortunately, I eliminated a number of options, particularly in the fields of higher education, almost all of which required further math.

Next Tuesday’s Post: Hopefully, I will have glowing things to say about Peggy and my 40-mile-hike down the Rogue River: Things like ‘piece of cake,’ ‘no problemo,’ and ‘let me at the PCT!’

FRIDAY’S POST: Bleeding like a speared mammoth, I decide to skip chemistry in the future. The MisAdventure Series

The 2nd 500 Miles on My 1,000 Mile Trek… From Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney

Highway 395 is one of America’s most scenic drives. This view looking up at Mt. Whitney (center top) is one of the reasons why. I’ll be ending my thousand mile trek here. From the top I will hike down several thousand steep feet to Whitney Portal. Peggy plans on being with me for this section of the trail. The hills in the foreground are the Alabama Hills, the backdrop for many of Hollywood’s early Westerns.

 

The first 100-mile backpack trek I ever led was from Squaw Valley to Auburn in 1974. Considering I had 60 people age 11-70 with me and that I had minimal backpacking experience, it was an insane adventure. Our last 50 miles had involved hiking in and out of river canyons with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees F (37.8 C). As steep as the canyons had been, my learning curve was much steeper! I was lucky the participants didn’t kill me. Fortunately, most of them were eager to go again and I went on to lead long distance adventure treks up and down the Sierras and in Alaska for the next 30 years. I limited the participants to a number that was compatible with my sanity and the environment, stayed at higher/cooler elevations, and required that anyone under 16 be accompanied by an adult guardian.

The second half of my thousand mile backpack trip this summer starts at Donner Summit on old Highway 40, some 12 miles away from Squaw Valley. I once had access to a winter cabin in the area and it wasn’t unusual to have 20 or more feet of snow on the ground. The cabin was warm and cozy. The Donner Party of 1847 wasn’t nearly as fortunate. Caught by bad weather, they were forced to camp out for the winter at Donner Lake, seven miles down the road from the summit. By the time they were rescued, half of the group had perished and the remainder had been forced to turn to cannibalism to survive. I’ll make sure that there is plenty of food in my pack.

My journey from here on will all be in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will pass through a number of wilderness areas plus Yosemite National Park. My last 180 miles will be spent in what is known as the High Sierra, following the John Muir Trail. Here are some ‘eye candy’ photos to introduce you to the beauty of the route.

This photo is from the Granite Chief Wilderness. Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is on the other side of the mountain. The field of yellow flowers is mule ears.

Looking south from Granite Chief, the mountains in the distance are part of Desolation Wilderness, that runs along the west side of Lake Tahoe.

The area is filled with flowers. These are monkey flowers.

And this is a Washington Lily.

Another view of the Desolation Wilderness.

Those who follow my post know I have a weakness for reflection shots. I took this ‘face’ at 4 Q Lakes in the Desolation Wilderness. It’s off the PCT but I may go there for old times’ sake.

I also took this old tree blaze in Desolation Wilderness.

Moving south of Carson Pass, where Kit Carson once ate his dog and his horse, this is part of the Mokelumne Wilderness. The small mountain is known as the Nipple.

One of my favorite hikes on the PCT is between Sonora Pass and Tuolumne Meadows. This is Nancy Pape who may join me for a portion of this year’s journey. As I recall, 1977 was the first year that Nancy trekked with me.

This is a view of Tuolumne River Falls in Yosemite National Park just before Tuolumne Meadows and the beginning of the John Muir Trail.

Some of you have asked if 4.9 ounce Bone will be going on the trek. He was squawking loudly about the possibility of being left behind. I finally conceded, but I told him that it would be a bare-bone journey.

John Muir called the Sierras that he loved to wander through ‘the Range of Light.’

I thought I would add a black and white photo to provide a different perspective on the mountains I will be hiking through. During heavy snow years, which this one isn’t, the passes can be covered with snow and the stream filled with fast flowing water, adding another element of danger to the trip.

This is a view of some of my trekkers making their way over a snow filled pass, carefully. Slipping could have led to a fall of several hundred feet.

In this photo, Peggy makes her way across a fast flowing stream. Water is powerful. It is easy to be swept off your feet. Two through-hikers drowned last year in the southern Sierras.

The incredible beauty of the High Sierra makes the journey worthwhile, however. Always.

Alpenglow lights up a peak.

The view coming down from the John Muir Pass and hiking into Le Conte Canyon. I sprained my ankle once following Peggy as she ‘ran’ down the mountain and ended up hiking 80 miles on it.

Eventually my journey this summer will come to an end as I reach Mt. Whitney. Peggy is pointing out where it is.

This is my 16-year-old nephew Jay Dallen on top of Mt. Whitney. Jay joined me for the last portion of a hike I did from Lake Tahoe to Whitney to celebrate my 60th birthday in 2003. Jay is hoping to join me again this year.

I’ll conclude my preview with this photo looking down from Mt. Whitney.

Peggy and I are out this week backpacking the 40 mile Rogue River Trail. It is both an opportunity to check out our gear and continue our conditioning program. It is also a test to see what kind of sense of humor my 75-year-old body has. Wish me luck! (grin) I’ll respond to comments and check in on your blogs when we return.

FRIDAY’S POST: What factors in your youth led you to choose the path you have chosen to follow in your adult life? I explore some of mine as part of my MisAdventure series.

From Captain and Quarterback to Second String Guard… The MisAdventure Series

The 1959 school yearbook had this photo of Junior Varsity members of the EL Dorado Union High School football team. I am on the upper left corner.

 

I discussed my elementary school desire to be ruler of everything in my last MisAdventures’ post. I wrapped up my blog by mentioning that since I had cornered the market on being president of this and that, I should also be a sports hero. I’ve made better decisions in my life. Lots of them.

Sports presented a totally different type of challenge in meeting my need to be leader of everything. I am not a natural jock. It isn’t so much physical as mental. You have to care to be good at sports and I find other things more interesting. Part of this evolved from a lack of enthusiasm on the home front. There was little vicarious parental drive to see us excel on the playing field. Being as blind as a bat didn’t help much either. Like most young people I was not excited about wearing glasses. When Mrs. Wells, the school nurse, came to class with her eye charts, I would memorize the lines and then breeze through the test. As for class work, I would sit close to the black board and squint a lot. While I got away with this in the classroom, it became a serious hazard on the Little League field.

I remember going out for the Caldor Team. All of my friends played and social pressure suggested it was the thing to do. Nervously, I showed up on opening day and faced the usual chaos of parents signing up their stars, balls flying everywhere, coaches yelling, and kids running in a dozen different directions at once.

“Okay, Curtis,” the Coach instructed, “let’s see how you handle this fly.”

Crack! I heard him hit the ball. Fine, except where was it? The ball had disappeared. Conk. It magically reappeared out of nowhere, bounced off my glove and hit me on the head.

“What’s the matter? Can’t you see?” the Coach yelled helpfully. “Let’s try it again.” My Little League career was short-lived. I went back to carrying out my inventory of the number of skunks that lived in the Woods. This didn’t mean I was hopeless at sports. In the seventh grade, I finally obtained glasses and discovered the miracle of vision: Trees had leaves, billboards were pushing drugs, and the friendly kid waving at me across the street was flipping me off. I could even see baseballs. It was time to become a sports hero.

My brother, Marshall, actually made the Caldor Little League Team. He is shown here with our dog, Tickle. (Looking back on it, I think Tickle may have been a publicity hound since we have few photos without him.) Marshall also had vision problems that made it difficult to play. He was born blind in one eye.

It says something about your future in sports when your career peaks in the eighth grade. Thanks to Mrs. Young kicking me out of school in the first grade, I was slightly older than my classmates and, thanks to genetics, slightly bigger. More importantly, I had mastered the art of leadership: make noise, appear confident and charge the enemy. As a result, I became quarterback and captain of the football team, center and captain of the basketball team and pitcher and captain of the softball team. I even went out for track and ran the 440 but they didn’t select me as captain. That honor went to a seventh grader. I was severely irritated.

A Penguin’s Guide to Long Distance Running

When I arrived as a freshman in high school, I still had the desire to be ‘ruler of everything in sight,’ but my success in this field of endeavor was about equal to my success with girls. It wasn’t hard for me to remember I had come close to my desired goal the year before. Now I lacked the confidence to run for Home Room Rep. Instead I managed a campaign for my friend Ron Williams to become President of the Class. His parents owned a small ranch on the southeast side of Diamond. The year before he had taught me how to milk a cow. I owed him big. I put a dog collar on Ron’s neck, attached it to a chain and led him from class to class. Of course, he won.

Sports were another area where I blew it. Any red-blooded American male knows that you have to go out for football to become a high school sports hero. There’s some glory in basketball and a little in baseball, but other sports are pretty much on the level of “Oh I didn’t know you did that.” What did I do? I let Jimmy Butts talk me into going out for the cross-country team. Now if you are really, really good at cross-country, like best in the state, you might get a mention in your high school paper when you win the state meet. But say you are the quarterback of the football team and you throw a winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of the homecoming game against your school’s primary rival. You are immortalized. You get the front page of the school paper and major coverage on the sports page of the community paper. As for the babes, they come out of the woodwork. Fifty years later, classmates are still reliving the experience at the class reunion. It doesn’t matter if your team lost every other game that year.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the best runner in the state, or in the community, or in the school, or the freshman class for that matter. In fact, I am not really built for running. My friends sometimes describe me as penguin-like. I have the upper body of a six-foot-six basketball player and the lower body of a five-foot-five VW bug racer. It was only excessive stubbornness that usually found me somewhere near the middle of the pack in my cross-country races. It certainly wasn’t a love of running. There was to be no glory in the sport for me, and certainly no babes. But a lot of character building took place. Great.

Smashing My Way to the Top: Not

By my sophomore year, I decided that I would have more fun playing football. But it was too late. I didn’t eat, dream and sleep football. I lacked the necessary motivation to smash my way to the top. I would come to practice after a long day of work in the fruit orchards where I had put in nine hours of hard, physical labor. The first thing I did was don miscellaneous body pads that were still slimy with yesterday’s sweat and smelled like week-old dead fish. By then the coach would be screaming at us to hurry up and get out of the locker room and on to the field. He did lots of yelling. I decided there must be a high correlation between football practice and boot camp including push ups, wind sprints, humiliation and more push-ups— everything it takes to turn a wild bunch of undisciplined young men into a snarling group of fanatics eager to go out and win one for the Gipper. (Remember the Ronald Reagan movie?)

The hard work was okay, but I was highly allergic to being yelled at. I still am. My rapidly waning enthusiasm took a sky dive leap when the coach decided my position would be second-string left guard. Now don’t get me wrong, guards and tackles are critically important to the success of a team and I confess that smashing into opponents and sacking the quarterback resembled fun. Where else could I practice physically aggressive, anti-social behavior and be applauded? I even remember feeling proud about breaking some unlucky kid’s rib. Shame on me.

Even second-string made sense. The other kids had played freshman football and earned their places. But I lacked the psychological orientation for being second string and had something else in mind in terms of position. I envisioned myself charging down the sidelines with the people in the stands on their feet cheering wildly.

It was not to be. I dutifully put in my time, finished out the year and decided to forgo a career in sports. I am glad I played. I gained new friends and new experience, both valuable. But I can’t say I learned anything of great significance. What I recall from the season was there was little ‘thrill of victory’ and lots of ‘agony of defeat.’ We were not a team destined for glory.

TUESDAY’S POST: I review the second part of my Thousand Mile Trek.My route will take me from world-renowned Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney, where I will finish my journey by climbing the 14, 505-foot (4,421 m) mountain— the highest peak in the contiguous United States.

FRIDAY’S POST: In my next MisAdventure’s post, I explore some of the things that led me to choose the path in life I did. It’s a question that always interests me, not just for myself but others as well. For example, what role did Miss Casty, aka Nasty Casty, play in my deciding not to pursue a career in anything involving higher math?

The First 500 Miles on My Thousand Mile Backpack Trek: Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe

I should see the striking Mt. Shasta several times as I make my way through the Siskiyou’s, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps— and quite likely after I cross Interstate 5.  Mt. Shasta is part of the volcanic Cascade Range that stretches up to Canada.

 

It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty planning of my thousand mile trek from Mt. Ashland in Southern Oregon to Mt. Whitney in California. I’ve been poring over maps, thinking about distances and planning out resupply points. I love maps, so this is a fun activity for me. I think I am being realistic, but you never know. Most through hikers (as people who hike the whole PCT are called) can average around 20-25 miles per day. Maybe even more. That’s a marathon per day! But the 75-year-olds out there are few and far between. I am planning on 12-13. If I can do more, great.

Today, I am going to share the first half of my route, approximately 500 miles, beginning at Mt. Ashland and ending north of Lake Tahoe. While I have backpacked in the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, and Lassen National Park, it is the area I am least familiar with. Once you hit Interstate 80 southward to Mt. Whitney, the second half of my journey, you are in my ‘old stomping grounds,’ so to speak. I’ve hiked through this country many times over the years. Below is a map of the first half of the trail.

This map of the PCT traces my route from Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe. While not as clear as I would like, it provides a good overview. Peggy and I live just north of the trail where it snakes its way along the California/Oregon border. Our property backs up to national forest land.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains provide some of the most beautiful hiking in the world. They are John Muir’s Range of Light. The northern part of my journey lacks the drama of the Sierra’s, but there is still considerable beauty in the Siskiyou’s, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps. Once I cross Interstate 5, I have Burney Falls and Lassen National Park to look forward to. Here are a few photos I have taken over the years to whet your appetite for what is coming.

Another view of Mt. Shasta.

The PCT works around the edge of the Red Buttes Wilderness where Peggy and I have been backpacking the last few years. This small lake is in the wilderness.

As are a number of giant trees such as this sugar pine Peggy is standing next to.

And this large red cedar.

Last year Peggy and I followed what is known as the Cook and Green Trail up to the PCT. We camped under this canopy of trees.

We found three through hikers on the pass. They were quite excited to be nearing the Oregon Border after their long sojourn from the Mexican Border. Most through hikers travel south to north.

We also found a PCT trail marker. They will serve as my guide on the trek.

The trail is well-marked for the most part. Where it isn’t, I’ll be using other guides, like maps and tree blazes.

The Marble’s and the Trinity Alps have numerous pristine lakes such as this.

And mountains. These are part of the Trinity Alps.

There are cascading waterfalls…

And large and small streams to cross— always a challenge for backpackers…

There are lovely flowers to admire, such as this Tiger Lily.

And possibly bears. This tree has been well-marked by bear claws! Peggy and I were in the Marble Mountains a few years back celebrating her birthday with a small cake I had brought along when a bear decided to drop in. Peggy told it in no uncertain terms that it was not invited to the party! Rather than face such a formidable opponent, it remembered some ants it wanted to eat.

Ponderosa Pine tree and Burney Falls in Northern California.

Once across I-5 , I will travel 83 miles to reach Burney Falls. In this photo, a lone Ponderosa Pine grows between the two channels.

Water comes out from layers of rocks as well as over the top at Burney Falls.

The water shooting out from the rocks provides an almost etherial quality to the falls. Peggy will meet me at the falls with resupply. Basically, she will be catching up with me once a week and I will have a layover day to feast, shower, and hopefully put up a post on my previous 6-8 days.

Burney Falls in Northern California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A final view of the falls.

Another week down the trail should bring me to Lassen National Park, one of two parks I will be hiking through. The other is Yosemite. Mt. Lassen looms above the meadow. I’ve climbed to the top of both Lassen and Shasta.

I thought this reflection shot of the mountain was fun.

And this one.

I’ll close today with this view of a stream winding its way through a park meadow.

Next Tuesday, I will take you through the second half of my journey from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney. Peggy and I will be doing our 40 mile conditioning trip down the Rogue River Trail. I should say conditioning plus trial. I’ll be carefully monitoring how my body responds to being back out on the trail with a loaded pack!

FRIDAY’S POST: MisAdventures. It is really hard to be a sports hero when you are as blind as a bat! Especially when it comes to playing hard ball… “Where’d that ball go?” Bonk!

Dog Bone Diplomacy and Other Tales of Power Politics… The MisAdventure Series

The West was won with the six-shooter, or so the gun folks like to claim. Our equivalent as children was the two-finger six-shooter. It had an infinite number of bullets and no one ever died, at least permanently, from being shot by one.

 

The desire to control our environment, to have power, starts at a very young age, like right after we have been pushed out of the womb. At first. out primary means is to scream loudly. It works. Later we learn more subtle techniques such as a smile or magic words such as Mama, Papa, and please. The first time I remember consciously thinking about power, I was in the third grade.

We were deeply engrossed in an intense game of Old West cowboys and outlaws during recess and it was my turn to be a good guy. Unfortunately, the bad guys had the tactical advantage. They were located on a slight embankment that formed the west side of the playground and were shooting down at us with devastating results.

“Bang, bang you’re dead,” they kept shouting ecstatically as my cohorts bit the dust. Drastic action was called for.

“Let’s charge them,” I yelled while beating my imaginary white stallion on his flanks, a.k.a. my butt, and charging up the hill with Rough Rider abandon. Amazingly, the other good guys, including older fourth grade boys, followed.

“You’re dead, you’re dead, you’re dead,” I screamed as I charged into the nest of evildoers with two-finger guns blazing. Third and fourth grade boys dropped all over the place. What a rush. I had discovered the dark art of leadership: if you make a lot of noise, appear irrationally confidant and charge the enemy, people will follow. I had power… and I liked it. I became a power-hungry third grader, a Trumpian character of vast proportions, and vowed to become ruler of everything in sight: President of the class, Boy Scout patrol leader, committee chairperson, and team captain. I wanted it all!

Prior to my charge up the hill, most of my experience at giving orders had been with Tickle.  He was a well-mannered dog and, like most Cocker Spaniels, eager to please his human servants. For example, one day he accompanied me to Dub Walker’s grocery store when I was on a mission to pick up a quart of milk. As I went inside, I told Tickle to sit down and wait, which he dutifully did. When I came out, the little brown and white dog was nowhere in sight. I figured he’d gone home but when I arrived there, he wasn’t to be found.

“Mother, have you seen Tickle?” I asked, explaining what had happened.

“No,” she responded, “and you know what that means.” I shook my head yes. It probably meant Tickle had sniffed out a potential girlfriend. It was the one situation where he normally felt justified in ignoring any request we had made of him and whatever the consequences his behavior might lead to. Most of us have been there.

“We’d better get in the car and go looking for him,” Mother had noted with a sigh. Otherwise it might be hours before we saw him again. As we drove down town I glanced over at Walker’s store. There was Tickle, waiting faithfully at the door and wagging eagerly at folks as they came out. Whatever the momentary distraction had been, possibly an errant cat, he had quickly returned to his post and had been waiting for over 30 minutes for me to reappear. That’s how good a dog he was.

Even Tickle had reservations about being ordered around, however. Sit down, come here, lie down and heel were fine the first time around and tolerated the second. On the third time, he got that very distinctive “I don’t want to” look in his eyes. Dogs have a clear understanding of the power game from their wolf heritage. As the challenged leader of the pack, I became more strident in my demands and Tickle became even more resentful. Mother intervened with a suggestion, “Try dog biscuits.” Like magic, Tickle’s attitude improved and I learned the art of dog biscuit diplomacy: the right incentive, offered at the right moment, can snatch victory from the jaws of an irritated Cocker Spaniel.

I’ve used this photo before on my blog of Tickle, me and my mother sitting on the edge of the Graveyard. If you hang out long enough on this blog, you will likely see it again. Tickle was my dog and an absolute sweetheart.

As part of my political education, I decided that there had to be more to the art of leadership than bossing my dog around and became fascinated with the world of realpolitik. My parents were semi-serious Republicans, semi in the sense that they didn’t devote their lives to the cause but they did vote the party line. The family tradition went back to Abe Lincoln who had been a family lawyer. My indoctrination started young with the 1952 campaign of Dwight Eisenhower against Adlai Stevenson. According to Mother, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were responsible for most of the bad things that existed in the Country and Ike was going to right the wrongs of the previous two decades. I, of course, accepted this view whole-heartedly and had all the makings of a fine Young Republican. Naturally I was eager to share my correct or ‘right’ perspective with fellow students.

They weren’t particularly interested.

After all, what do nine-year olds know or care about politics? One student, whose parents were avid Democrats, was ready to take me on, however. Our debate started in the boys’ bathroom when we were lined up at the urinals and continued on to the playground. Things began well. Even then I was a high-verbal and points I didn’t win on logic I was taking with volume. But the situation deteriorated rapidly. My fellow debater did what most politicians do when they appear to be losing ground; he started slinging mud.

“Eisenhower is a blankety, blank,” he declared with a smirk to underline his cleverness. It was his mistake, now we were talking my language.

“In that case,” I argued with glee, “Stevenson is a blankety-blank, blank, blank.” Marshall, Allen and Lee had taught me every swear word in the English language and a few in Spanish. I could go on for minutes without repeating myself. In fact, Allen and I had challenged each other to a contest once to see who knew the most swear words. There was a vacant lot filled with tall grass down on the corner where Missouri Flat road ran into Highway 49. We got down on our hands and knees and chased each other through the grass while shouting obscenities at the top of our lungs.  We were so engrossed in our efforts that we didn’t note that Marsh had time to go home and retrieve Pop to listen in on the exchange. He was not impressed with our command of the language.

Anyway, I was not to be outdone in the mudslinging department; I had a bright future as a campaign manager. It demolished my opponent. Regrettably, I was about to learn an important Hobbesian lesson in power politics: Never start political arguments with a person carrying a baseball bat. He let go with his and whacked me across the leg. Down I went onto the playground and off I went to the hospital as my leg muscle knotted up to the size of a softball. Fortunately, nothing was broken and my man Ike won the election.

My scramble for power peaked in the eighth grade when I ran for Student Body President. Diamond Springs Elementary School had consolidated and become Mother Lode Elementary School. (Later it would be named after Allen’s dad and become Herb Green Elementary School.) In addition to a new school, we now had kids from El Dorado and Missouri Flat.

My opponent was a Doctor’s kid from out of town and across the tracks, so to speak. The campaign turned nasty.  “Curt’s a Flirt” and “Curt Eats Dirt” posters made by a fourth-grade class, sprang up all over the school grounds. I resented being used as a lesson plan in rhyming and retaliated by recruiting a one-man enforcer to go around twisting fourth grader’s arms. I even made an inflammatory speech. About what, I haven’t a clue, but it must have been effective. I won the election.

And I still wanted more power. The principal asked me to take over as president of the schools’ new square dance club and I immediately said “yes” even though dancing was just above (and possibly below) going to the dentist on my list of favorite activities. To paraphrase Thoreau, I dance to a different drummer. Other people’s downbeat is my upbeat. As for the square dancing, I confess it was fun. “Stop where you are, give your honey a swing” went the call and I loved giving girls a twirl. The only down side was that the woman of my dreams, the girl who had captured my 13-year-old heart, was assigned to a different square.

Even being President of the Mother Lode Twirlers wasn’t enough, however. I wanted to be a sport’s hero, too, which is the subject of next Friday’s MisAdventures’ blog.

TUESDAY’S POST: A trail review of the first 500 miles of my thousand mile trek.

Backpacking Ultralight with 2 Sheets of TP Per Day: Not… The 1,000 Mile Trek

Going ultralight in backpacking is serious business. It always has been. The backpacking towel on the left in the photo was considered the ultimate in a lightweight towel for years. My ultralight towel for this year is on the right.

 

Ultralight backpackers are a serious bunch. I read the other day that you should be able to get by on two sheets of toilet paper per day. Not this kid. I am serious about reducing the weight of my pack, but not that serious. I need a few creature comforts— and I need more than two sheets of TP per day! Also, I refuse to use leaves, even though I know what poison oak looks like. (Fannies etc. are not happy when they come in contact with poison oak or ivy!)

That having been said, I have worked hard to get my pack weight down. I figure with backpacking a thousand miles at age 75, I need every break I can get. And I’ve succeeded. My pack, including eight days of food and fuel, now weighs 28 pounds! Back in the dark ages of backpacking, which was back in the late 60s when I started, my pack for 7-9 days usually weighed between 55 and 65 pounds. Fifty pounds were ultralight for me!

It wasn’t that folks didn’t want to reduce weight in the early years. In fact, one way people had of defining a serious backpacker was whether she had drilled holes in her toothbrush. (I never did.) The primary difference today is that modern equipment weighs so much less. My pack towel featured in the top photo is a good example. But almost every piece of equipment I own has gone through a similar evolution. And it is happening fast. I’ve replaced my light, two-person, 4 1/2 pound North Face Tadpole Tent of the last four years with a 2 1/2 pound, two person Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 for the TMT (thousand mile trek).

REI Medford and I have become quite close over the past three months! And the staff has been tremendous, especially Elise, who always greets me with a large smile and supports my efforts to find bargains where bargains are to be had. The latest, lightest gear is not cheap! But consider this. Trying to go light last year without replacing much gear, my pack weighed in at 40 pounds with eight days worth of food— 12 pounds more than this year’s. Buying light, and weighing everything that goes into my pack has made a significant difference.

Everything that goes into my pack has been weighed on my kitchen scales. Here, my MSR Pocket Rocket stove weighs in at 2.6 ounces.

I thought it might be fun to share what I am carrying on the TMT since most of you will be joining me on my trip, virtually if not literally. Let me start by noting I organize my gear in categories: There is my house, my kitchen, my bathroom, etc. Since I kicked this post off with a discussion on TP, I’ll start with my bathroom, which I am sure you are eager to learn about. (Grin.)

Here’s my bathroom. I put my keys in for a size comparison. The dark blue cloth is my backpack towel. I, quite manfully, carry a pink wash cloth. Other items include biodegradable soap, hand lotion, toothpaste, toothbrush, TP, and hair brush— the latter with its broken off handle has been with me for decades. I borrowed the small jar from my medicine cabinet. It houses cotton swabs and floss. The soap does triple duty including baths, dishes and clothes. The disposables are designed to last me eight days on the trail.

Having pulled together my ‘bathroom’ with eight days of supplies, I pack it all together, which is how it goes into my pack. It weighs 9.4 ounces.

These go into my “essentials’ bag. A whistle can be critical if you are injured or lost. The sound carries far. Next to it is a bottle of water purification tablets, then my knife and compass. My maps, also essential are packed elsewhere. My headlamp comes next. The bottom row includes sunblock, insect repellent and rope. Spot is a GPS based gadget that lets my family know where I am each night and also serves as an emergency beacon, informing officials that I have been injured and letting them know where I am. Hit the emergency button and rescuers are on the way. Matches are packed in a water proof bag.

Also essential, but packed separately is my first aid kit. While it is small and light, it is packed full of various bandages, gauze, medicines, ointments, tape, and even a basic first aid guide. It weighs in at 7 ounces.

My kitchen: Everything needed to cook and eat— my stove, dishcloth, bucket, coffee and tea mug, 4-ounce fuel container and its base, bowl and spoon, and an all-purpose titanium cook pot that holds up to 32 ounces of water. I also use the bucket for bathing and washing clothes as well as hauling water to camp.

Water, is critical out on the trail, and micro-organisms such as giardia require that water be filtered or treated. The Katadyne bottle comes with its own filter and is my go-to bottle. I also fill the Platypus bottle on the left when it’s a long ways between water sources. The MSR filter on the right is in case the Katadyne filter decides not to work! Another trick I use is to camel up when in camp! I am constantly drinking liquids.

I carry a back-up bag in the bottom of my pack. It includes extra batteries, TP, matches and fuel. I also have my ‘burner’ cellphone, a repair kit, athletic tape for wrapping a sprained ankle, and a knee brace. Since I am blind as a bat if my glasses break, I always carry an extra pair.

Food for 8 days for one person. I normally carry about one pound per day. I may have to add to this as I use up fat reserves. 🙂

These are my clothes that I will be carrying (as opposed to wearing) depending on weather. On the left is my rain jacket and next to it my down jacket. My red clothes bag includes a T-shirt, underwear, extra socks, rain pants, long pants, a warm beanie hat, and warm gloves. Everything is designed to be worn in layers, more when it’s cold, less when not. I can easily handle most spring, summer and fall weather conditions with theses clothes. Laundry is done each night!

Here’s my house and furniture. It includes my tent, chair, sleeping bag, and sleeping mattress. I switched from a down bag to a down quilt this year. For yeas I have mainly used my bag as a cover anyway. The Therm-a-rest chair works in conjunction with my Therm-a-rest mattress.

This is what all my gear together looks like.

And here is everything packed up. Anymore and I would need a bigger backpack.

Here’s a view of the back. I really like the pockets on the waist belt. One will house the Canon Power Shot G7X camera I will be carrying. The other will accommodate Spot.

And that’s it folks! I am ready to hit the trail. Not shown is a small bag I carry that accommodates my maps, journal, field guide and book, which will likely be my Kindle.

UPCOMING POSTS: As I mentioned earlier, preparing for the trip limits the number of blogs I can post and the amount of time I can spend reading blogs. I am already missing my daily fix! Still, I hope to get up two blogs per week and catch up with your adventures every chance I get.

FRIDAY’S POST: I have a discussion on power politics with my cocker spaniel Tickle on MisAdventures.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part I of my route preview. The first 500 miles.

A Terminal Case of Puberty Blues… The MisAdventure Series

As a freshman at El Dorado Union High School, I decided to take PE Dance Class so I could go to events like the 1957 Sock Hop and be more than a wall-flower. It wasn’t to be…

 

In my last MisAdventure’s post, I took you through my early ‘romantic’ adventures up to my competition with Eric over the exotic Judy in the fifth grade. I carry on today, where I became hormonally challenged. Read on!

A pair of twins took up my sixth and seventh grade passions. I started out with Gail but she dropped me. That was a shock. Fortunately, her twin, Lynn, was interested in me so my suffering was short-lived. Like about a day.

By the eighth grade, my previously semi-quiescent hormones begin to stir. They weren’t boiling yet, but they were bubbling. Girlfriends were becoming serious business and new emotions suggested slightly more adventuresome behavior on my part. Holding hands, an awkward kiss or two, and snuggling up on the dance floor were about as far as I got in the parlance of the day, however.

Ann was my serious eighth-grade flame. She had dark hair, dark eyes and a ready smile. She cried when she wasn’t assigned as my partner in our square-dancing club. I liked her a lot but I was going on to high school and high school boys don’t date elementary school girls. I dutifully, if reluctantly, ended the relationship. Payback time came at the eighth-grade graduation dance in Placerville, a big event attended by seventh and eighth graders from throughout the region. Ann showed up dressed in white and was radiant. A steady stream of boys lined up to dance with her. I hid out and sulked in a corner with a bad case of instant jealously. I did get the last dance, though; it was ‘Love Me Tender’ by the latest singing sensation, Elvis Presley. The year was 1957.

For some reason, I decided to go out for Cross Country my freshman year. I am second from the right in the top row.

Something happened between the eighth grade and high school. And it hit me right between the eyes with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Here I was a happy, well-adjusted and relatively successful young man one day and a serious candidate for a strait jacket the next. Pimples popped out on my face overnight and my voice became dedicated to practicing random octave jumps. Teenage-hood, which had promised to be a mild adventure, arrived with a vengeance. I was being hormonally challenged; I had a terminal case of puberty blues. Things I had taken for granted became illusive, almost impossible to obtain. Take girlfriends, for instance.

I expected to lose a little ground in the field of romance when I became a freshman in high school. Sophomore, junior and even senior boys cruised the hallways in a mad scramble to check out the new crop of freshmen girls. And the older girls weren’t about to date a freshman boy, that lowest of low creatures. But I didn’t expect to bomb the way I did. I became intensely, almost painfully shy. I would walk down the hallways staring at my feet in fear that some young woman would look me in the eye. If a girl tried to talk to me, I would mutter inanities and make a run for it. The strangest statements came out of my mouth. As for asking a girl out, the odds were a little less than being struck by lightning and the latter seemed like a less painful alternative.

It wasn’t that I didn’t notice girls. My body was one huge hormone. I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. I pined for a young woman who sat in front of me in Mr. Crump’s Geography class. She was gorgeous and came with a full complement of accoutrements: smile, brains, hips and breasts. I was in deep lust. My knee and her butt were mere inches apart and her butt was like a magnet. I had the most intense fantasies of moving my knee forward until it made contact. In my fantasy she would of course turn around, smile at me and suggest we get together after school. In reality, she would have turned around and bashed me with her geography book (rightfully so), or worse, told Mr. Crump. I would have died. I kept my knee where it belonged. It is a strong testament to my love for geography that I didn’t flunk the class under the circumstances.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and I was a desperate man. I signed up for dance classes in P.E. I would learn to dance and become a combination of Arthur Murray and Elvis Presley. Step, step, slide and swivel your hips. Girls would flock to me. It wasn’t until the day of the class that I learned the magnitude of my mistake. I would have to dance with girls to learn how to dance and there they were, lined up on the opposite side of the gymnasium floor, staring at me.

“God, why did I do this to myself,” I thought as I stared across the distance at twenty females who I knew were thinking, “anybody but Curtis.”

“Okay, boys,” the female P.E. teacher announced in a stern voice, “I want you to walk across the room now and politely ask a girl to dance with you.” Wow, that sounded like fun.

Reluctantly, I began that long walk across the gymnasium floor. I was a condemned man and the gallows were looming. I walked slower. Maybe an earthquake would strike. Maybe the Russians would shoot off an IBM missile. Maybe one of the surly seniors would throw a match in a wastebasket and the fire alarm would go off.

Maybe nothing.

I approached the line and looked for a sign. One of the girls would smile at me and crook her finger. But the girls looked exceedingly grim. A few looked desperate, like deer caught in the headlights of the proverbial 18-wheeler rushing toward them at 90 miles per hour. I picked out the one who looked most frightened on the theory that she would be the least likely to reject me.

“Uh, would you care to dance,” I managed to blurt out.

“Uh, okay,” she responded with about the same level of enthusiasm she would have if I had offered her a large plate of raw liver. It was P.E. Dance Ground Zero after all, and she wasn’t allowed to say no. We were destined to be a great couple.

“You will put your left hand in the middle of the back five inches above the waist line.” The teacher, who was now sounding more and more like a drill sergeant, carefully described what we would do with our hands. It was quite clear that there would be minimal contact and no contact with behinds. “With your right hand and arm, you will hold the girl away from you.” There would be no accidental brushing of breasts either. I assumed the correct position with marine-like precision. I was going to get this right. I studied the chart the teacher had put up to show me what I was supposed to do with my two left feet. I listened carefully to the lecture on rhythm and down beats. I watched with intensity as she demonstrated: step, step, slide, step-step.

And all too soon it was our turn. A scratchy record blasted out a long-since-dead composer’s waltz. I didn’t know who it was but it wasn’t Elvis or even Benny Goodman. With one sweaty palm in the middle of the girl’s back and the other sweaty hand holding her a proper distance away, I moved out on the floor. Step, step, slide, step-step. One, two, and three, four-five the coach barked out. My feet more or less followed the prescribed pattern as I avoided stepping on the girl’s toes. I tried a turn and managed to avoid running into another couple. Ever so slightly I relaxed. Maybe things would be okay. Maybe I would have fun. Maybe Hell would freeze over.

“Stop, class!” the teacher yelled as she blew her whistle and yanked the needle across the record, adding another scratch. We dutifully came to a halt. What now?

“I want everyone to watch Curtis and his partner,” she announced.

“Hey, this is more like it,” I thought to myself. Not only was I surviving my first day of dance class, I was being singled out to demonstrate. I smiled, waited for the music to start, and boldly moved out on the floor where many had trod before. Step, step, slide, step-step. We made it through all of three progressions when the teacher abruptly blew her whistle again.

“And that, Class,” she proclaimed triumphantly, “is not how you do it. Curtis is moving like he is late for an important date with the bathroom.”

The class roared— and I shrank. I don’t know how my partner felt, but I wanted a hole to climb in, preferably a deep hole with a steel door that I could slam shut. And I was more than embarrassed, I was mad. My normal sense of humor had galloped off into the sunset.

“You don’t teach someone to dance by embarrassing him,” I mumbled. An angry look crossed the teacher’s face and she started to reply. I turned my back and walked for the door.

“Where do you think you are going, Curtis? Get back here!” she demanded in a raised voice.

“I am leaving,” I replied without turning, calm now the decision made. The class was deadly quiet. This was much more interesting than P.E. Other kids might challenge teachers, might walk out of a class, and might not even care. But not Curt. This was a guy who always did his homework, participated in class discussions, was respectful toward teachers and aced tests.

I reached the door and put my hand on the handle.

“If you walk out that door, you may as well walk home,” the teacher barked. “I will personally see to it that you are suspended from school.”

I opened the door, walked out, and went straight to the office of the chairman of the P.E. Department, Steve O’Meara. Steve worked with my Dad in the summer as an assistant electrician, but I knew him primarily as my science teacher.  He was a big man, gruff, and strong as a bull elephant, a jock’s jock. He demonstrated his strength by participating in the annual wheelbarrow race at the El Dorado County Fair. The race commemorated the fact that John Studebaker of automobile fame had obtained his start in Placerville manufacturing wheelbarrows for 49ers.

Steve O’Meara.

The County’s strongest men would line up with their wheelbarrows at the starting line and then rush to fill a gunny sack with sand at the starter’s gun. They would then push their wheelbarrows and loads at breakneck speed around an obstacle course that included mud holes, a rock-strewn path, fence barriers and other such challenges. In addition to making it across the finish line first, the winner had to have fifty plus pounds of sand in his gunny sack. Underweight and he was disqualified. Steve was always our favorite to win and rarely disappointed us. He had a very loud voice.

“What’s up, Curt,” he roared when I entered his office. I knew Steve didn’t eat kids for lunch but you always wondered a little.

“I think you are supposed to expel me,” I replied. He started to laugh until he saw my expression. Mortification and anger on the face of a 14-year-old are never a pretty sight.

He became serious. “Sit down and tell me what’s happening,” he suggested in an almost gentle voice.

Ten minutes later I walked out of his office with a reprieve. I didn’t have to go back to the dance class and could finish out the quarter playing volleyball.  Steve would have a discussion with the dance instructor. I imagine she ended up about as unhappy as I was. At least I hoped so. I entertained a small thought that she would hesitate the next time before traumatizing some gawky kid whose only goal in attending her class was to become a little less gawky. It would be a long time before I would step onto a dance floor again.

TUESDAY’S POST: The world of Ultra-light Backpacking Gear— Preparation for the Thousand Mile Trek!

Out and About on Kodiak Island… The Last of the Alaska Series

Tony and Cammie took us out fishing on streams like this. The fishing was fun, but it was the beauty of the country that caught me. The family had been camping on this stream.

 

We had gone to Kodiak to visit our son Tony, his wife Cammie, and our three grandsons: Connor, Chris and Cooper. Tony was flying helicopters on rescue missions for the Coast Guard, often in stormy weather over dangerous seas.  Cammie, in addition to overseeing our rambunctious grandsons, had started a jewelry business using sea glass that she collected off of the beaches. Some of the glass was particularly colorful, having ended up in the ocean as a result of a popular bar being destroyed by the 1964 Tsunami.

Cammie and Tony.

The boys and I check out a tide pool. I am pretty sure that’s what grandfathers are supposed to do with their grandkids!

The kids took us around the Island, at least the part that was easily accessible by road. We played tourist, went fishing for salmon, helped Cammie gather sea glass, and ventured out into the bay on a halibut fishing expedition. I’ve already posted on our bear watching trip and a series of closeups. Today’s photos reflect our outings with the kids and bring to an end our visit to Kodiak Island and the Alaska series.

We did a fair amount of salmon fishing. Here’s Peggy working a stream.

Our catch… Of course Peggy caught more than I did. That’s par for the course. Sigh.

She also caught this halibut! Few fish taste as good. The kids have a halibut chowder recipe to die for.

When Tony went to Alaska, he didn’t fish, nor did he have any desire to. But he fell in love with fishing. Salmon and halibut were often on the menu.

Cammie took to salmon fishing as well. Here she receives a high-five for catching one. She’d even grab her pole and head out when Tony was on assignment. Remember, this is Kodiak bear country…

We fished this stream. A Kodiak bear was fishing the same stream a couple of hundred yards away! I found him when I was out wandering around, without my camera, unfortunately.

This attractive cliff was just up from where we were fishing.

Looking out toward the bay.

Another example.

The whole family went searching for sea glass. It’s like going on a treasure hunt!

Cammie turns the sea glass into beautiful jewelry. If you would like to see more of her work, her Facebook site is Coastal Road Designs.

A final photo of the beautiful Kodiak Island.

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